Reassigned to short-season Batavia after a .183 start through 37 games with Quad-Cities a year ago, Virgil Hill faced two options.
He could have been bitter or he could work to become better.
Hill chose the latter, batting .245 in 54 games in the New York-Penn League. There he collected six of his seven triples, which allowed him to lead the entire Cardinals’ minor-league organization last season.
“At the time I was sent down, it was tough. This is a business where you always want to be taking a step forward, and when that didn’t happen, it was hard,” Hill said. “Coming here and then getting sent down, it was a disappointment, but things happen for a reason.”
The move provided St. Louis’ sixth-round selection in the 2009 draft with a clear perspective on the business aspect of the sport and allowed him time to regroup and prepare for a return to the Midwest League.
“It may have been the best thing for me,” Hill said. “I have to trust that the decisions that are being made are being made in my best interest and will help facilitate my development.”
Hill calls it a tough lesson, but one which has helped him grow.
“Until then, I had continued to climb the ladder. This forced me to take a good look at what I was doing and what I needed to do to improve,” Hill said.
After helping lead Johnson City of the Appalachian League to its first championship in 34 years in 2010 with three homers and four extra-base hits in playoff competition, Hill found 2011 to be a “humbling season.”
“Things didn’t go as I hoped they would,” Hill said. “But, I’ve never lost sight of my ultimate goal, and that’s to one day get to the big leagues. That is still out there, and the work continues.”
After being reassigned following his early-season struggles with Quad-Cities, Hill simplified things at the plate and regained both his hitting touch and his confidence.
He gained an appreciation for the difficulty he was putting himself in by falling behind early in counts and worked to change that.
“You can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself if you let that happen, and that is where I found myself,” Hill said. “This is still the same game that I was learned to love to play when I was 6, 7 years old. It hasn’t changed, but I was trying to out-think it at times, and I had to get away from that.”
He is trying to benefit from what he learned now.
“We need for Virgil to do what he is capable of doing, driving the ball to the middle of the field,” River Bandits manager Luis Aguayo said. “If he can stay strong and do that, he can help the team.”
Hill gained an appreciation for how to deal with adversity, something which typically tests nearly every minor-league player at some stage in his career.
“For some guys, it happens right away. For others, it comes along later,” Hill said. “It was something I had to deal with.”
The competitor in Hill wouldn’t have dealt with it any other way.
The son of U.S. Olympic medalists Virgil Hill Sr. and Denean Howard-Hill, the River Bandits outfielder finds inspiration in the competitive drive of his parents.
His father earned the silver medal in boxing in Los Angeles in 1984, the same year his mother earned the first of her three Olympic medals in the 400 relay, a gold that was followed by silvers in 1988 and 1992.
“I’ve always said I get my speed from my mother and my conditioning from both my father and mother,” Hill said. “I understand the work that it takes to compete at the highest level, and I am committed to getting that done.”
After regaining a handle on his career last season at Batavia, Hill spent the offseason training in his Southern California home.
He spent time at the DISC Performance Center in Marina Del Rey, Calif., participating in a sports performance program designed to help develop his skills. When he wasn’t working there, he spent time training at the West Coast Baseball School in Burbank, Calif.
“DISC works with a lot of Olympic athletes and a lot of pro baseball players train at West Coast, so one of my objectives has been to put myself around a lot of other high-caliber athletes with the idea of that forcing me to raise the bar of my own expectations,” Hill said.
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“I’m working hard to get better, to take that next step that will help me move my career forward, and that is how I approach things every day. I don’t think you can deal with it any other way.”
The Hill file
Hometown: Placentia, Calif.
Birthdate: Sept. 9, 1989
College: Los Angeles Mission College
Obtained: Sixth round, 2009 draft
By the numbers: The best of his three seasons in the Cardinals’ organization came at Johnson City in 2009, where he hit .289. … Went 0-for-8 in his first three games with Quad-Cities this season before a 3-for-3 game Monday vs. South Bend
FYI: Hill was a four-sport standout at Valencia High School, where he had a scholarship offer from Boise State as a receiver, multiple offers in track, was the starting point guard in basketball and was drafted by the Marlins in the 28th round following his senior year in 2007